Lost your map?

(under 500 words)

'Growing up' can be pretty painful if we are unwilling to grow. Growing up entails one of the most difficult tasks - letting go. 'Letting go' is not only inadequately taught but also inappropriately stigmatized in human societies.

Compare to little caterpillars where 'letting go' of the shell and metamorphosis is a good sign of growth. The real difference between the animal example and human mind is the higher level of cognition that humans use to characterize the process of 'letting go'. Humans characterize 'letting go' as a sign of 'retreat' or 'failure' or 'giving up'. Consequently, we associate it with negative emotions of sadness.

You may question 'what is so good about letting go off anything anyways?' Growth.

For years psychologists have believed that we create and use mental maps to guide our belief system and our behavior. For instance, a child raised in an environment where she is continually told (explicitly or implicitly) that working hard in school leads to good grades, 'believes' this to be true. I.E. Walk straight on the 'work hard' road and you will lead to the destination of 'good grades'. If however, she fails in the exam in spite of working hard, this mental map needs alteration - the addition of some other factor - incorrect questions, innocent remark reported as cheating, something similar. When we add such a factor, the map changes. And, we don't like changes now, do we?

What complicates the situation is some of the maps we use have worked so long for us that we believe them to be absolutely true and foolproof. For instance, jobs and marriages. Many of us absolutely believe that if we behave in a certain manner at work and in our relationships, things will go smooth. And this belief is strengthened every time 'nothing goes wrong'. However, when some extraneous information emerges - the boss is having a bad day and passes it on to you or the partner chooses to move on in a different direction - the map changes. Such situations demand that we absorb this new information, assimilate it into our existing map, change the map, and follow the new one.

Most life changing situations make such large demands. Most adults are not trained to change maps effectively. On an average, an adult faces life-changing situations 2-3 times in a lifetime. While the number 2 or 3 may seem very small, the impact of such situations often lasts years if the 'rectify your map' process is not in place.

So the next time your belief system crashes, be cognizant. Don’t make the common mistake of extrapolating. Remember that situations and circumstances can change surprisingly. Make allowance for the possibility that ‘changes’ are for the better. And then, live without watering down enthusiasm. Keep your morale and standards high. Keep ‘long-term’ in the vision and ‘grow’!